No one is blitzing Patrick Mahomes this season. Per TruMedia, Mahomes is the least blitzed quarterback in the league on just 12.8% of his dropbacks. This isn’t exactly new. Defenses started treating Mahomes and the Kansas City offense this way throughout last season when teams went two-high at a wild rate in an attempt to stop explosive pass plays.
Last season, Mahomes was blitzed on 20.6% of his dropbacks, which was already the second-lowest rate in the league during the 2020 season. Of course, Mahomes killed the blitz when those extra rushers were sent. He completed 69.1% of his passes for 9.31 yards per attempt and a league-leading 0.48 EPA per dropback against five or more rushers in 2020. Instead of tasking the risk of not getting pressure with the extra rushers and getting shredded, defenses have gotten less aggressive on the pass rush and have decided to keep those defenders in coverage.
Mahomes isn’t alone here. Defenses are blitzing less often overall in 2021. This season is the first since at least 2013 (as far back as TruMedia has blitzing data) that defenses have blitzed on fewer than a quarter of overall dropbacks. Only six teams have a blitz rate of at least 30%, also the lowest in that span.
League Blitz Rates, 2013-2021
|Year||Blitz %||Teams Above 30%|
Like Mahomes, other top quarterbacks in the league have been blitzed less frequently. Josh Allen has been blitzed at the third-lowest rate (16.9%), Tom Brady the sixth-lowest (20.4%), and Aaron Rodgers the ninth-lowest (20.8%).
For quick processors both pre- and post-snap, those extra rushers can become an advantage for the quarterback. The league’s best quarterbacks can identify the blitz, know where the hole in coverage will be, and get the ball out before the extra rushers can make an impact on the play.
Per TruMedia/PFF, 63.3% of Brady’s overall passes in 2021 have been delivered in 2.5 seconds or less from the snap, the second-highest rate in the league. Against the blitz, that rises to 80% — a rate that can virtually make the extra rushers moot. It’s too quick of a release for pressure to even come.
In a less meaningful way, Ben Roethlisberger has forced defenses not to blitz him because he’s not going to hold the ball long enough for pressure to get to him. 68.5% of Roethlisberger’s pass attempts this season have come within 2.5 seconds of the snap, the highest rate in the league. Against the blitz, that rate is 89.7%.
Of course, the biggest difference here is how effective those players are at throwing quickly. Roethlisberger is averaging -0.09 EPA per dropback overall and -0.40 against the blitz while Brady is averaging 0.19 EPA per dropback (sixth) and 0.24 against the blitz (seventh).
This leads to one of the more interesting parts of defenses choosing not to blitz as often, which is who exactly they’re choosing to blitz or not blitz against.
For example, teams still want to blitz rookies. Among the most blitzed quarterbacks this season are Mac Jones (second), Justin Fields (fifth), and Zach Wilson (13th). Both Trevor Lawrence and *checks notes* Davis Mills have below-average blitz rates among the current 32 starting quarterbacks but blitzing rookies still has its desired effect.
The rookies have struggled overall early in the season but that has been especially true against the blitz. The best rookie, Jones, ranks 24th in EPA per dropback against five or more pass rushers. Jones actually has a higher EPA per dropback against the blitz than not but that might say more about his overall style of play — a quick processor who hasn’t hit many explosive plays — than any meaningful split.
2021 Rookie QBs vs Blitz
|Player||Blitz Rate (RK)||EPA/DB w/o Blitz (RK)||EPA/DB w/ Blitz (RK)|
|Mac Jones||33.2% (3)||-0.11 (29)||-0.09 (24)|
|Justin Fields||31.5% (5)||-0.11 (30)||-0.48 (32)|
|Zach Wilson||26.4% (13)||-0.24 (32)||-0.39 (30)|
|Trevor Lawrence||23.3% (19)||-0.06 (25)||-0.28 (28)|
|Davis Mills||22.9% (20)||-0.10 (28)||-0.30 (29)|
Last year, Josh Allen was one of the most blitzed quarterbacks in the league. He faced five or more pass rushers on 35.7% of his dropbacks, which was the third-highest rate among quarterbacks. But he averaged 0.24 EPA per dropback against the blitz, the sixth-best rate in the league, with 18 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
As part of the Allen breakout last season, his production came from searching for a big play. While most quarterbacks speed up their release when facing the blitz, just 45.4% of Allen’s pass attempts came within 2.5 seconds of the snap against five or more rushers, the lowest rate in the league. That allowed Allen to escape the pocket and wait for something to open up down the field. Allen’s 8.75 aDOT against the blitz was the fourth-highest among quarterbacks.
That reputation has followed him into 2021 but the production hasn’t matched. Allen has only been blitzed on 16.9% of his dropbacks but he hasn’t been able to find as much success making plays happen. Much of Allen’s process has remained the same. He’s still trying to buy time against extra rushers with 46.7% of his throws versus the blitz coming within 2.5 seconds (the league average is 61.7%). This year he’s throwing the ball even deeper with a 9.98 aDOT but he’s only completing 58.5% of his passes compared to 66.2% last season. Despite not yet taking a sack against the blitz, Allen is only averaging 0.07 EPA per dropback.
Outside of the 2020 season, Allen doesn’t hold a reputation of being great against the blitz. Per TruMedia, Allen ranked 28th in EPA per dropback against the blitz (-0.01) from 2018-2019.
Coming out of Buffalo’s Week 7 bye, Allen will face one of the league’s most blitz-happy teams in the Miami Dolphins and there are still meetings with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers on the schedule. With some struggles against extra rushers, we should watch whether other defenses get a little more aggressive to push the envelope or stick with sitting back against Allen for the rest of the season.
Perhaps what’s more interesting are the star quarterbacks who aren’t getting this type of treatment, notably Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson. Prescott leads the league in blitz rate (36.1%) and Jackson is not far behind at fourth (32.3%).
Jackson has played two of the league’s least blitz-heavy defenses but the defenses that like to bring pressure made sure to really bring it against the quarterback.
Lamar Jackson Blitz Rates, 2021
|Week||Opponent||Game Blitz %||Season Blitz %||Difference|
During his three years as a starter, Jackson has never been bad against the blitz. His worst EPA per dropback (0.12) came last season and still ranked 15th among quarterbacks. During the 2019 season, he absolutely killed the blitz while he was one of the most rushed quarterbacks in the league.
Lamar Jackson vs Blitz, 2019-2021
|Season||Blitz Rate||EPA/DB||Comp %||Pass Att within 2.5 sec|
During the 2019 season, Jackson threw 25 touchdowns and two interceptions against the blitz and that caused teams to back off in 2020. While the heat is back on, Jackson is still having success. He’s completing a career-high 67.2% of his passes against the extra rushers even while he’s taking more time in the pocket and throwing downfield more often. The Ravens are helping a bit by spreading things out more on offense, which has put fewer bodies around the line of scrimmage and can slow down the effectiveness of a pass rush.
Prescott has been in a similar boat this season. Only two teams have blitzed him at a lower rate than their season average. It’s interesting that one of them was the Los Angeles Chargers, who decided to heavily blitz Jackson.
Dak Prescott Blitz Rates, 2021
|Week||Opponent||Game Blitz %||Season Blitz %||Difference|
Overall, Prescott is 11th in EPA per dropback against the blitz (0.17). That rate is just a bit below his overall EPA per dropback (0.22), which ranks third. Prescott is beating the blitz this season and allowing plays to develop down the field. Through six weeks, Prescot has 12 completions of 20 or more yards against the blitz, which is second to only Derek Carr (15). Eight of Prescott’s 16 passing touchdowns this season have come on completions of 20 or more yards against the blitz. Those eight touchdowns match the combined number for Prescott from 2018-2020.
21% of Prescott’s attempts against the blitz have traveled at least 20 air yards, the second-highest rate in the league. That’s almost exclusively where his deep shots are coming. Against four or fewer pass rushers, only 5.9% of Prescott’s attempts have traveled 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage, the lowest rate in the league.
The answer for defenses isn’t as simple as to stop blitzing Prescott because he’s killing defenses in a different way when the blitz doesn’t come. On those throws with four or fewer pass rushers, Prescott is completing a league-high 81.5% of his passes. The next highest rate is 73.0%. Those aren’t just empty short completions, either. Prescott’s 8.75 yards per attempt on those throws ranks fourth. (Lamar Jackson’s 9.02 yards per attempt rank third.)
Defenses across the league have started to ease off on sending extra pressure against the league’s best quarterbacks. It’s not a magic fix because these quarterbacks are quite good when not pressured. Yet it’s a huge gamble to send those extra pass rushers to get burned. For other defenses, it’s just as big of a gamble to continue to send pressures against the likes of Jackson and Prescott.
We’re not suddenly going to see blitzes disappear but defenses are going to start thinking harder about when those extra rushers are worth it because the best quarterbacks in the league continue to make that decision tougher.